AS DISAPPOINTING as yet another loss was, Liam Sutcliffe says regaining some defensive strength was a major positive for Leeds Rhinos against Catalans Dragons.
Friday’s 24-12 result was a seventh successive defeat, the club’s worst run since 1985, but it signified a marked improvement on recent performances for Super League’s bottom team.
They trailed 16-6 at half-time having conceded three tries but did not buckle again until the very last play of the match when, with Leeds pushing hard to retrieve the situation at 18-12, Eloi Pelissier picked off a loose pass to race 60 metres.
The previous week, Rhinos had been thrashed 52-18 at Warrington and, before that, 40-8 versus Wigan Warriors in Newcastle, and 52-12 at home to Castleford Tigers, a combined total of 144 points in just three games.
Sutcliffe, who played full-back in the absence of both Zak Hardaker and Ashton Golding, admitted: “It’s still very frustrating that we’re not getting there at the end with a win.
“But, obviously, compared to the last few weeks especially, it was a massive improvement especially in terms of our defence.
“It’s never good to concede that many points like we had been doing.
“I think it was three weeks in a row we conceded quite a lot.
“It was a massive focus of ours last week to really tighten up our ‘D’ against Catalans and not let as many points in, which we did.
“But we’re still very disappointed to get a loss.
“We thought we could get it at the end. A bit of luck our way and we might have got the result, either sneaking a draw or even getting a win which we were still confident of doing going into the last 10 minutes.
“But it wasn’t to be again. We just couldn’t finish some sets off and get over the line.
“It’s something to work on, though. We’ll come in Monday more pleased than we have done the last few weeks and hopefully build on it.”
The return of Joel Moon after a two-month lay-off was another positive as the defending champions look for some form of inspiration.
The Australian centre set up Brett Ferres’ opening try after just six minutes with a smart play and he looked sharp throughout as if he had never been away.
Sutcliffe admitted: “He’s a bit of a freak is Moony, to be honest.
“He’d not played for so long so you’d think he’d struggle with the game speed or whatever. But he slotted straight back in there. He’s a great player to have back in the team and in the next few weeks, hopefully, we’ll get a few more back.”
It will take a miraculous set of results for Leeds to still make the top eight.
Their main aim must surely be to avoid the ignominy of being the first Super League champions to finish last the following season.
“Until it’s mathematically impossible we’ll still strive for it,” insisted Sutcliffe, ahead of Salford Red Devils’ visit on Friday, a side they narrowly lost to 14-10 at in April.
“We don’t want to be settling for being in the bottom four and thinking that’s our season done.
“We still want to click and get our stuff together. Hopefully that was a step in right direction.
“I remember playing Salford away and we tried to sneak that.
“We had a couple of tries disallowed at the end which was unfortunate, but we’ll go again and hopefully get it right.”